Reflection on the Readings for Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday! (the Second Scrutiny)
I’ve got some good news: REJOICE! It’s Laetare Sunday! We are more than halfway through Lent.
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to celebrate Laetare Sunday as a liturgical way of saying “Lift up your eyes! See the light at the end of the tunnel!” This Sunday, Christ calls us to exercise our faith in a special way, by doing something that perhaps we tend not to even think about during Lent – Rejoice! Be Joyful!
Rejoice, you say?
Given the present state of circumstances, it’s understandable why some – perhaps many – of us aren’t feeling it, or can’t see it right now. If that’s a problem, then this Sunday’s readings were especially chosen for you. God is inviting you to close your eyes, offer your vision to him, then open your eyes and let him fill you with his vision, so as to give you a new outlook of faith.
Think of it this way. What if you could suddenly see your present state of affairs, your whole life, everything around you from his perspective? Sound desirable?
In the first reading, the Prophet Samuel is instructed by God to anoint a new King of Israel to replace the failed leader, King Saul. At the point when Samuel is about to decide who would make the perfect king, based on the charming charisma of the first person he sees, God reminds him that this was the very same observation he had made with regard to Saul, before anointing him as king, and that didn’t work out so well.
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
As with any passage in the Bible, there’s a lot of backstory that would be useful for us to consider before we jump right in. The course of events that led up to this moment when God tells Samuel, “Stop and think about what you are about to do!” began with Israel’s demand for a king.
At first, Samuel tried to persuade the Israelites that it was a very bad idea. But the people insisted on it, because in the eyes of the world, Israel looked like a bunch of unruly, backwater, rednecks without a king. In other words, they cared to much about how everyone else saw them, and not how God saw them. Yet to the prophet’s surprise, God told Samuel to give them what they wanted, and that is exactly what Samuel did.
Samuel followed God’s instructions, which led him to Saul, a good looking man, tall and strong, a natural leader. Samuel anointed Saul king and gave himself a pat on the back for finding the right man for the job, the one who would naturally win the people’s choice award. Samuel sealed the deal that would get the people of Israel off his back. Or so he thought.
It wasn’t long before Saul – the incredibly self-reliant, natural born leader – turned out to be incredibly self-centered and way too concerned with his approval rating in the eyes of men. For him, doing right in God’s eyes was only an afterthought, and maybe something he could talk his way around, after taking care of business his way (a politician).
Saul made decisions aimed at making himself look good, even if those decisions were in direct opposition to obeying God’s prophet, Samuel. Much to Samuel’s chagrin, the charismatic, natural born leader in the eyes of men was a failed choice, unfit to rule God’s people.
Hence, God entrusts the prophet Samuel with the awkward and sensitive task of secretly anointing a new king, even while Saul still sits on the throne. (Vexed much? Rejoice! You might be a prophet.)
Such is the setting for today’s first reading, at the house of Jesse, where Samuel is about to make the same mistake all over again, by anointing the first good looking fellow he sets eyes on, when God says, “Not so fast…”
What even the Prophet did not see was that God was actually teaching him and the rest of us a lesson through all of these circumstances. God’s lesson is twofold: 1) God always has a plan, even though we may not see it clearly; 2) We only see what God wants us to see when we surrender to his plan.
With exemplary docility, patience, and obedience, Samuel waits for God to reveal the one he has chosen. Now, Jesse was supposed to have all of his sons present when the Prophet arrived, but didn’t fully comply with Samuel’s order. He held something back. This is where Samuel’s wisdom kicks in: he is now in tune with God, having learned from past debacles. Following God’s instructions very carefully, Samuel reprimands Jesse and says they will not offer the sacrifice until the disregarded, youngest son, who is out in the field tending sheep, joins them. That one turns out to be David, a boy after God’s own heart. And the Lord said, “There—anoint him, for this is the one!” He was the one God had in mind all along.
The anointing of David turns out to be a watershed moment in the history of Israel, and Salvation History for that matter.
The story of David’s anointing points forward to the Gospel for this Sunday, in which Jesus, the New David, is disregarded by the wisest and most learned elders of his own people, yet he is recognized clearly by the man he cured of blindness, after anointing his eyes.
In St. John’s account of the Man Born Blind, the verb ‘to see’ appears 13 times. It is as if the Evangelist is waving signs at the reader saying “open your eyes! See how the world cannot see what God wants you to see.” God’s glory appears right before their eyes, and they’re blind to it. Meanwhile, the formerly blind man can’t stop rejoicing in what he sees, thanks to the miracle of sight and the gift of faith.
However – as part of God’s plan – we first have to witness a gross display of drama, saving face, and throwing innocent people under the bus – basically human nastiness – before the beautiful reveal at the end. Why? It’s the reality of sin, how it effects the way people see things, and how people treat one another when they shut themselves off from seeing the work of God. The Evangelist makes sure we see the hubris of the self-righteous Pharisees for what it is. Then at last, when all the unnecessary drama subsides, Jesus blesses the man he cured of blindness with an even greater gift which he had in store for him all along.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown [the man he had cure of blindness] out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he.”
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
God’s plan from the very beginning was for that man – for all of us – to see and recognize him. Imagine the joy. His whole life being deprived of something we all hold dearly, the gift of sight. Then, on the day his eyes are opened for the first time, he gazes directly on the face of God and he has the added grace of undoubtedly knowing it.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world around him had the very same privilege of beholding God in the flesh, but they were too stubborn and stuck in their worldly ways of looking at things to see it. How sad for them! How joyous for the man born blind! Which one are you?
The readings for this Sunday are chosen for a specific purpose. On the one hand, we already noted that this Sunday is Laetare Sunday. We are invited to experience the joy of the man born blind upon seeing the face of Christ with his own eyes. To experience this joy, we let go of our worldly way of looking at things and let Jesus open our eyes of faith to see as God sees.
Another important reason the Church chooses these specific readings this week is for the Scrutinies, which I wrote about last week. If you missed my explanation of what the Scrutinies are, you can click here to read that post. In short, the Scrutinies are a period of deep examination, purification, and enlightenment during the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, particularly for those who are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter.
Tomorrow’s post will be a more detailed, guided meditation on Jesus’ Healing of the Man Born Blind from John 9 (Click Here to see the meditation). Until then, let us pray for that grace to have Jesus open our eyes to see what he wants us to see.
Open our eyes, Lord! Reveal yourself to us through your presence in the world; You, who before you healed the man born blind, said to your Apostles:
“We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4)